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Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On said Tuesday that while developments in the global financial markets were being watched closely ahead of a possible slowdown of the economy, Israel was in a better position to weather the global financial crisis than other nations.
"Israel has a strong, stable and good economy. Inasmuch as we have been enjoying the fruits of globalization 'deluxe,' we will also be affected by global financial crisis," Bar-On said at the Caesarea conference, organized by the Israel Democracy Institute in Jerusalem. "However, at this point we see no reason as to why we should be affected by the crisis with the same magnitude as other markets that are more exposed."
In defending recent criticism that the Finance Ministry was not addressing developments in world markets, Bar-On added that the ministry was closely following these developments and their impact on the local economy, although it did not provide forecasts on the local financial and economic situation.
"We discuss these issues in internal forums on a daily basis but not through the media," said Bar-On.
At the conference, business and policy makers called for the establishment of a task force to reduce bureaucratic barriers and enforce harmonization between regulatory bodies vital in developing a proper business culture that would ensure continued prosperity in Israel's economy.
"We live in a society characterized by a business culture where everyone is generally seeking loopholes in the system to pay less, otherwise you are considered a 'sucker,'" said Adv. Tali Yaron-Eldar, a former tax authority commissioner.
Ahead of the conference, a team headed by Yaron-Eldar, Israel Makov, Prof. Zvi Eckstein of the Bank of Israel and other participants examined the relations between the public sector and the business sector. They found that on one hand, the business sector's share of economic activity has been rising, along with a drop in the state's participation in the economy, while on the other hand, the government's importance as a supervisory and regulatory agency for the economy has risen. The team made recommendations for changes to the governmental supervision system and for cutting red tape by increasing electronic and Internet-based interfaces between the public and the business sectors and citizens. It also recommended promoting computerized services as a main government objective.
"I believe that we can cut bureaucracy in this country by first... identifying ways to shorten bureaucratic procedures within the Finance Ministry and in [its] cooperation with other ministries, while also harmonizing regulatory divisions," said Finance Ministry director-general Yarom Ariav in response to the recommendations. "Secondly, we have the responsibility to improve the public services by transforming government services into online services. The Israeli high-tech sector has proved itself on a global scale and there is no reason why an IT government shouldn't follow its footsteps."
Bar-On added that as a result of a recent national campaign to use services on government Web sites, the number of online visitors grew by 40 percent in January 2008, numbering 750,000 visitors, compared with the monthly average of 535,000 in 2007. Payments via government Web sites increased by 50% in the months of January and February, compared with the monthly average in 2007.
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